On craft

On “Etiology”

by Thomas Mira y Lopez

“Etiology” appears in ROOTED: The Best New Arboreal Nonfiction.

This essay started with my wanting to write about my mom’s house in Pennsylvania. I was writing about all sorts of things—our neighbor Wayne, who keeps a 30 of Busch in his trunk; the time a bear climbed the oak tree in the driveway—and then settled on my dad’s tree as a way to center it. I was also taking a class on Milton that semester. I didn’t really understand all that much, but gathered up a bunch of good vocabulary words and encyclopedia entries that I would use as prompts for essays. The river Lethe was one of them; it’s mentioned somewhere in Paradise Lost, probably in hell. The connection between tree and underground water source, as well as how one distorts memory and the other obviates it, seemed a natural one to make. From there, I had to write about my dad’s illness as well as the other memorial tree in Central Park. I remembered my mom’s stories about trees in Central Park falling down after storms and then how I had read a feature in the NY Times about pedestrians killed or seriously injured by these renegade limbs. I began to think of tree revenge. I wrote the essay relatively quickly, over a period of several weeks. The end came all at once, in my kitchen. My friend was visiting me and sitting in the other room and I was hoping all the while he wouldn’t say anything before I finished. He didn’t. Then, of course, it took several years to tinker the piece down and find the right order for the braids.


Thomas Mira y Lopez is from New York. He holds an MFA from the University of Arizona and his essays appear in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Georgia Review, Hotel Amerika, and The Normal School among other journals. He is an assistant fiction editor at DIAGRAM and a founding editor of Territory, a literary project about maps and other strange objects. “Etiology” first appeared in CutBank (Issue 81).